Once a game in which titles were decided, Saturday’s Arsenal vs Manchester United clash at the Emirates now has to be content with being a mere headline fixture of the weekend. Arsenal and Manchester United are both out of the top four; the last time the teams met in such a scenario was 16 years ago in September 1998.
A clash that has in every season since the Premier League began featured at least one team with title hopes, has turned into a battle for the fourth champions league spot this season. A fixture which saw immense rivalries back in the days of Sir Alex has no such significance this season. Both teams have not been able to live up to their lofty reputations.
United travel with injuries galore
United, on their maiden visit to the Emirates under manager Louis van Gaal, have had their worst start to a Premier League campaign this season and with a squad crippled with injuries ahead of this clash, Van Gaal’s men have a mammoth task this weekend. Talking before the match in the press conference, Van Gaal confirmed that both David de Gea and Angel Di Maria were fit to play against the Gunners and that Michael Carrick was available. However, new signing Daley Blind is out with a knee injury and Rafael and Phil Jones are still not available for selection.
With defenders Marcos Rojo, Phill Jones and Rafael injured, Jonny Evans still working his way back to fitness, the defense is in serious trouble. Positives for the fans would be the fact that star striker and club captain Wayne Rooney scored crucial goals for his country during the international break. The gaffer hailed Wazza as a fantastic player and praised his skipper’s versatility and his amazing goal scoring record.
The United camp would be heavily dependent on their strikers, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie and the talismanic Di Maria for getting a good result with an almost makeshift defensive line.
Arsenal need to assert themselves
Arsenal themselves have had their defensive problems this season, with experienced and important defenders sidelined for a long period of time. French defenders Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy are both out with injuries, though Wenger told the press that they are on their way back but midfielder Aaron Ramsey is still out with his injury.
More worries followed, when Wenger revealed that Theo Walcott is unlikely to face United. Wenger was expected to rely much on the returning Theo Walcott, who made two appearances as a substitute this season after being out for nine months with a cruciate knee ligament injury. However the winger, who was part of the England squad against Scotland, appears to have picked up another injury.
Wenger also confirmed that striker Olivier Giroud and midfielder Mikel Arteta are both available for selection.
Players facing their former clubs
For 9 consecutive seasons from 1995-96 to 2003-04, United and Arsenal shared the crown between them. Their clashes would often define seasons, be it Vieira vs Keane, the Pizzagate incident, the Van Nistelrooy penalty miss or the end of the Invincibles’ run. But it’s highly unlikely that it holds similar significance this time around.
This season both the teams have been leaky, and have lacked a solid run of form. It will be game where the emphasis will be more on the attack. The presence of quality players in both teams is likely to make a quality match. Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and United’s Wayne Rooney would be waiting to emulate their international performances with their clubs this weekend.
The match which sees players facing their former clubs – one for the first time and another used to the hostility of the fans who previously adored him. All eyes will definitely on Welbeck and Van Persie, in anticipation of goals against their former clubs. The match promises to be a good one with only one place separating the teams and both gunning for glory, but an undercard contest to be honest, when once it was the main event.Published 22 Nov 2014, 18:58 IST